Accidental Activist

Just a Boy's Diary

A diary is a book with no discernible plot and an uncertain ending. It sounds a lot like life.

By Ben Bull
Published April 21, 2006

When I was a pre-teen, just about the only thing I ever said to my parents was, "I'm bored."

Of course, being a bolshy little shite, I gave it my own, unique inflection. "Ugh!" I would begin, with a heavy sigh. "I'm booooored!"

I said this a lot.

My mum always did her best to offer me suggestions and send me on my way. "Go for a walk," was a favourite, as was, "I have some errands you can run." (I usually took my boredom elsewhere after that.)

I recall one particular rainy day, before the advent of Computers, MSN Messenger and free local calling. "Ugh" I said, to my mum, followed by a well-practiced world-weary sigh.

"I know, I know," she replied, cutting me short. "You're bored."

My mum suggested I start a diary.

"A diary?" I repeated, incredulous. "Why the hell would I start a diary? Diaries are for girls."

My mum was sifting through boxes in the basement, doing one of her impromptu Spring Cleans, something she did whatever the season and whenever the mood took her (which was often - my mum liked to keep busy). She was deep in concentration, studying an expensive looking leather bound journal, and smiling to herself.

"What's that?" I asked, snatching it from her.

"Just a girl's diary," she replied, snatching it back. "Mine."

"Can I read it?"

My mum's diary began around 1967 - a year before I was born. Thoughts about her life, her future and the dubious joys of parenting bounced off the pages. Mum and dad had three little girls back then and, from the sounds of it, my older sisters - in particular Clare, my middle sis - were a precocious threesome.

Mum wrote about how she pushed them in their prams, hauled them on and off the bus and cleaned up the crap from the kitchen walls after a typical family breakfast, dinner or tea.

It was evident, as I read all this, that my mum did most of this alone. But yet, in the tone and language of these entries, there was no hint of despair. In fact, my mum seemed - for the most part at least - to be thoroughly enjoying motherhood. An entry around September 1967 really freaked me out.

"I'm late (again)," it read, ominously. "I do hope I'm pregnant."

Holy Crap! I thought. That's me! I really hope you're pregnant too, mum. Otherwise I won't be born.

Other entries were not so warming. A few years after I came along, my mum left us to go and nurse my Uncle Albyn in Cumbria. Albyn was sick with cancer, and my mum's sister, Maureen, had five kiddies in tow and more worries than she alone could handle.

As the pages flipped by my Uncle Albyn grew sicker and sicker. But by far the greatest pain welling up in the ink was that of a mother separated from her children, wondering what her kids were having for dinner, what they were doing with their days, and whether they were missing her at all.

"I do hope they miss me," wrote my mum.

The Diary ended a few months later, not long after Uncle Albyn died, and began again 23 years further on. This time mum was doing sick duty of a different kind. My week old nephew George was cooped up in an incubator with a little hole in his heart. He was doing what all the other little incubator babies were doing at that time: trying to survive.

Fortunately, George did survive his uncertain start to the world, thanks mainly to the efforts of the paediatric surgeons at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital and their amazing tiny tools.

But other kids did not.

My mum captured, not only little Georgie Boy's close calls, but also those of his neighbours. Neighbours like Baby Thomas, who had an enlarged heart and was born just a few days before George.

At first he did well. "His mum and Dad are so brave," wrote my mum, "and so hopeful."

"Thomas is doing better today," another entry read. But with the flip of a page I was reminded in a miserable instant about the sheer unpredictability of life: "April xx, xxxx. Baby Thomas died today."

I took my mum's advise to write a diary. Over the course of four funless weeks in the Autumn of 1986, I documented the dubious excitement of my endless empty days with the kind of detail and enthusiasm you would expect from a sulky suburban kid. It went something like this:

"Monday: Played Pac Man with Steve."

"Tuesday: Delivered the Newspapers."

"Wednesday: Played Pac Man with Steve."

It was riveting stuff. Thank God for Pac Man.

26 years on, I'm thinking about picking up the diary again. For one thing, my life is a whole lot more exciting these days. With a precocious quartet of my own I have no time to be, ugh, sigh, bored, and it seems to me that I spend way too much time being, "busy doing other things" as John Lennon said, especially if these things include just sitting around worrying.

No doubt my installments will have highs and lows just like my mum's (preferably with more highs than lows) and I suspect they may contain more than the odd musing about words that I hate and any other superfluous self-talk that seeps in and out of my head.

But what the hell - it's a diary, a book with no discernible plot and an uncertain ending.

It sounds a lot like life.

I think it's going to be fun.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By Herschel (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 13:43:33

Very nice, I enjoyed reading it. I might even start my own diary one day...
Keep up the good work!

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By sooty the dumbass (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2008 at 23:22:26

This article is quite nooby, I would say.

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